"But they knew in their hearts that once science had declared a thing possible, there was no escape from its eventual realization..."
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Residential solar is cheap, but can it get cheaper? Paths to $0.05 per kWh

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The price of solar panels has fallen far and fast. But the Energy Department (DOE) wants to bring those costs down even further, especially for residential homes. After all, studies have shown that if every inch of useable rooftop in the US had solar panels on it, the panels could provide about 40% of the nation's power demand. Right now, the DOE's goal is residential solar that costs 5¢ per kilowatt hour by 2030.

In a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), researchers mapped out some possible pathways to that goal. Notably, the biggest barriers to cost reduction appear to be the stubborn "soft costs" of solar installation. Those soft costs include supply chain costs, labor costs, and sales and marketing costs that aren't related to the physical production of solar cells at a factory.

NREL wrote: "Because the 2030 target likely will not be achieved under business-as-usual trends, we examine two key market segments that demonstrate significant opportunities for cost savings and market growth: installing PV at the time of roof replacement and installing PV as part of the new home construction process."

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Daimler included emissions-cheating software on diesels, German magazine says

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Enlarge / (Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images) (credit: getty images)

US investigators are looking into whether Mercedes parent company Daimler used illegal software to cheat emissions tests on diesel vehicles in the US, according to German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, whose report was picked up by Reuters. Though the investigation itself is not new—it was reported as early as April 2016 that the Department of Justice was looking into Daimler's actions around emissions testing its diesel vehicles—the new reports of emissions-cheating software draw parallels to Volkswagen's notorious emissions scandal.

The German paper allegedly saw documents indicating that one software function on Daimler diesel vehicles turned off the car's emissions control system after driving just 26 km (16 miles). Another program apparently "allowed the emissions cleaning system to recognize whether the car was being tested based on speed or acceleration patterns," according to Reuters.

Software that turns an emissions control system on and off depending on whether the car is being tested in a lab or not is called a "defeat device," and unless the automaker gets explicit permission to have one, a defeat device's inclusion in an auto system is illegal in the US. In 2015, Volkswagen Group was discovered to have hid defeat device software on its VW, Audi, and Porsche diesels. The automaker has since spent billions of dollars in buying back vehicles that were emitting up to 40 times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxide (NOx).

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Black lung makes lethal comeback—coal miner epidemic is the largest in history

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Enlarge / Lungs of a coal worker, with black pigmentation and fibrosis from inhalation of coal dust. (credit: Yale Rosen)

An epidemic of severe and rapidly progressive black lung disease is emerging among coal miners in Appalachia. Case counts from just three clinics in the region reveal the highest disease levels that doctors have ever reported, according to a study published in JAMA this week.

Between January 2013 and February 2017, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health documented 416 coal miners with the condition. Prior to the discovery, researchers largely thought that black lung cases were a thing of the past. Diagnoses have been rare since the late 1990s

The clinics, run by Stone Mountain Health Services, would typically see five to seven cases each year, Ron Carson, who directs Stone Mountain's black lung program told NPR. Now, the clinics see that many in two weeks, he said. And in the past year, they’ve diagnosed 154 cases.

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In Iceland, bitcoin mining will soon use more energy than its residents

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Enlarge / The Icelandic town of Keflavik has emerged as a hub of Bitcoin mining. (credit: Pierre-Selim)

Bitcoin-mining operations are set to overtake domestic residential energy consumption in Iceland later this year, according to a local energy company. As a result, one lawmaker is considering what could or should happen if Iceland continues to expand its role as a major bitcoin-mining hub.

Iceland, the North Atlantic island nation with a population of just 340,000, is powered almost entirely by renewable energy, mostly geothermal, hydroelectric, and wind.

Johann Snorri Sigurbergsson, a manager at energy firm Hitaveita Sudurnesja, told the Associated Press that he expected bitcoin mining to hit 100 megawatts this year.

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California green-lights initiative that is conspiracy theorist’s dream

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Enlarge (credit: Getty | Joe Amon)

Activists in California can now move forward collecting signatures for an expansive ballot initiative that encompasses a world of non-evidence-based and fringe notions, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

The initiative would eliminate vaccination requirements for schools and daycares, banish genetically modified organisms, and prohibit basic water treatments with fluoride and chlorine. The initiative would ban more than 300 chemicals, including fire retardants, and it would order the removal of smart meters. These, the initiative claims, are “neither smart nor meters but intermittent samplers, not accurate, not accountable, [that] emit and receive unnecessary radiation.”

The initiative, dubbed the “California Clean Environment” initiative, will create an elected, three-person board to oversee the sweeping regulations and approve new chemicals. Violations under the initiative would be considered up to felony crimes punishable by fines and prison sentences.

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Google sells as many phones in a year as Apple does in a week

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Enlarge / The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

With the recent acquisition of one of HTC's smartphone teams, Google appears more committed than ever to being a smartphone hardware maker. The company still has a long way to go to reach a substantial customer base, though. The Research Director for IDC, Francisco Jeronimo, shared some interesting smartphone shipment numbers from the IDC's quarterly industry report.

The IDC says Google shipped only 3.9 million Pixel phones in 2017. That's good, in that it is double the previous year's shipments. On the other hand, the IDC says Apple shipped 215.8 million iPhones in 2017, which works out to 4.15 million a week. So Apple ships more phones in a week than Google does in a year.

They make good phones

Google's jump into the hardware arena with self-branded phones began with the first Pixel phone at the end of 2016, and the company still has a ton of work to do. Google has proven it is good at the "phone building" part of being in the smartphone business—the Pixel 2 and 2 XL are easily the best Android phones you can buy. Google hasn't made a lot of progress in the "sales and support" part of the smartphone business, however.

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